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Two Rams.jpg
Scientific Classification

Ovis ammon

The argali, or the mountain sheep (species Ovis ammon), is the globally endangered wild sheep, which roams the highlands of Central Asia (Himalaya, Tibet, and Altay). It is also the biggest wild sheep, standing as high as 120 cm and weighing as much as 140 kg. The Pamir argali (also called Marco Polo sheep, for they were first described by that traveller) may attain lengths of more than six feet.

The general colouration varies between each animal from a lightish yellow to a dark grey-brown. The face is lighter. Males have a whitish neck ruff and a dorsel crest. Males have two large corkscrew horns, some measuring 190 cm/ 6.3 ft in length. Males use their horns for competing with one another. Females also carry horns, but they are much smaller.


Argalis live in herds between 2 and 100 animals, segregated by sex, except during breeding season. Migrating herds, especially males, have been reported. With long legs, herds can travel quickly from place to place. Argalis tend to live at higher elevations during the summer.


Argalis are considered endangered or threatened throughout their entire range, due to habitat loss from overgrazing of domestic sheep and hunting. They are hunted for both their meat and their horns, which are used in traditional Chinese medicine. Legal hunting of trophies has also killed many Argalis.

Traditional subspecies

  • Ovis ammon ammon Altai argali
  • Ovis ammon collium
  • Ovis ammon hodgsonii, Tibetan argali
  • Ovis ammon karelini
  • Ovis ammon polii, Marco Polo sheep
  • Ovis ammon darwini
  • Ovis ammon severtzovi
  • Ovis ammon jubata
  • Ovis ammon nigrimontana

Some sources consider mouflon, the ancestor of modern domestic sheep, as Ovis ammon musimon, however DNA testing has not supported this. Several subspecies of argali have been genetically tested for mtDNA, and one study found that the subspecies Ovis ammon ammon, O. ammon darwini and the urial subspecies, O. vignei bochariensis grouped closely while the subspecies Ovis ammon collium and O. ammon nigrimontana grouped with the urial subspecies O. vignei arkal.

Related References

See Also